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Brands: Stop Telling about Your Empathy and Show It

Every American trapped in social isolation is tired of the commercials. Right?

“We’re in this together, so here’s 20% off a brand-new car.”

“Frontline workers are heroes, so here’s a discount on insurance.”

“Social isolation is hard, have you considered replacing your HVAC?”

Okay, the last one I made up. But would it really be that far-fetched at this point?

Meanwhile, all the businesses marketing to us with empathy, fail to show it in their actions. Amazon or Whole Foods might make a kind, appealing ad, but have they taken all the steps possible to protect their employees? Not until public outcry forced them to do so.

Good storytelling is about showing the reader your truth, not telling them. In this “unprecedented time” (another stale-ass phrase) brands are all too willing to take on marketing that tells the target audience they care, but the ones who will really succeed are those who can show their empathy through tangible examples.

If that means you need to take a hard look at your brand’s actions, I can’t help you with that, at least not in this blog post. Maybe if we set up a phone call!

But if you’re a marketer trying to figure out how to create content that shows your brand’s true empathy in a way that resonates with the audience, I maybe can help. Content marketing during and after COVID-19 is going to be dependent on good, honest content. When I am trying to figure out how to make a piece of writing show the truth better, here are some of the questions I ask.

Can I Connect More with the Senses of the Audience? 

When you’re writing marketing copy, the sensory experience of your audience is maybe not front-of-mind. And that’s okay–let’s not take ourselves too seriously, or overstep the bounds of professionalism and brand positioning. But trying to sell someone a product right now is a complicated task. You can’t rely on old methods, but also still need to show the audience their life will be easier and better if they do business with you. From this realization, it’s time to lean in to the answer. How will your product or service make life during the pandemic easier for your customers? Once you know the answer, you can’t just tell them. You have to show them.

Find the places you are promising your target audience an outcome. Is it described or depicted in a way that is actually realistic to the current circumstances?

You can’t expect a reader to do the work of translating what you are telling into their own perspective, or deciding what it means for them. Yes, you don’t know their exact circumstances, so the instinct to simply say “we’re all in this together” is strong because it’s easy. But the truth is we aren’t in this together. Some of us live alone. Some of us have three screaming children. Some people have a job, and some don’t. Some live in safety and some live in fear. What is the alignment of your audience, and how can you promise to improve it?

For instance, you might tell the reader about “increased workflow transparency between disparate remote workers” as a software selling point. This means little, maybe even nothing. But describing to them “Use in-product chat, real time push notifications, and document sharing to work together better even when you’re apart” lets them reside within your description. They get a visual of existing as your customer. It also explains the feature better.

Which Verbs and Adverbs are Weak?

Okay, let’s stick with this example. I would say that “work together better even when you’re apart” is the idea you want to get across, but it’s also wordy. How do we fix it? Well, there are verbs out there that could do better to inspire good emotions than “work.” And paired with “together,” we’ve strayed into totally expected and boring language. Turn to a thesaurus or just think for a while. Collaborate means “work together,” so why use two words when we could use one?

The acceptable answer might be because you like the tone better. Collaborate is a vocab word you had to spell on a test at some point, and might come off as fussy. If your brand doesn’t position itself that way, you might like the more laid-back and less buzzwordy “work together.” But these should always be choices we make as writers, not unexamined features of our writing. And, as much as your personal preference is one thing, there’s also the emotional exhaustion and perspective of your audience to consider. Are we more tired of being together or collaborating? The answer you feel is correct should also inform your choice of language.

Dialing back in to our example, there’s also the dependent clause lazing around, taking up too much space at the end–“even when you’re apart.” This entire chunk of words is all an adverb, still referring back to and describing a condition about when and how we “work.” Could it be fewer words, or even removed completely? Words like “remote” and “distance” can help trim the fat.

Maybe you try on a modern phenomenon like “remote collaboration.” However, now you’re straying back into perhaps telling, and not showing. Or can you evoke the excitement of what real remote collaboration can feel like when done well?

Choosing the strongest verbs possible and getting rid of lazy adverbs is a practical step to evocative writing, but our first discussion about sensory richness and empathy should be held at a higher priority. If it takes you more words to show, so be it.

Are Quotes or Data an Option? 

Your reaction to the idea of quotes and dialogue within a piece of marketing content may be–it’s a fun idea, but also a strange new territory. But in this day and age, supporting content with data and third-party perspective is more essential than ever, to maintain some integrity in our storytelling and not just put more opinionated content on the Internet.

Quotes in B2B marketing content take some of the burden off the writer to show versus tell. What if instead of trying to nail down the perfect way to show and evoke your remote collaboration feature, you got a customer testimonial? This has an amazing benefit of allowing the claim about “working better” to be stated by someone else, rather than yourself. This supports a humble approach to marketing that many brands try to achieve.

You can also show commitment to brand values or show your industry thought leadership through quotes. Start your piece with action of a critical conversation between two company stakeholders, showing how values were better understood or achieved during the pandemic. Or, instead of summarizing your company’s opinion about why your software is the best option during this time, share a quote from the founder.

Data is another tool that can help you show a story in marketing content. We do plenty of research in marketing about both our industries and our target audiences. Sometimes, the data points we find are an essential link in our reasoning or motivation. How and why we tell a story is about the facts and environment around us, too. We don’t have to make readers aware of every detail, but sometimes sharing a statistic shows far more than even our best most luscious words.

For instance, if you wanted to drive home the need for better remote collaboration, there are plenty of data points available right now that can build and support your argument.

Why Storytelling is Important in Marketing

Everyone loves a story they can be included in, that touches their emotions and resonates with their perspective. As we all learn and struggle through, this kind of connection is about open sharing and humility, not pushing our own unique vision like it’s the only one.

Use the specifics about what it’s like to work with you and why you stand out to your advantage. Describe them in your content and put the reader in the shoes of your customer, because you want them to be one!

If you’re still seeking more guidance about how to show and not tell in B2B marketing content, our free eBook Campfire Content focuses on creating shared context with audiences. Or, we’re always around to talk too.



For many marketers, it's a real challenge to produce content that connects with the right readers on an emotional level. Doing so could mean the difference between a disinterested reader and an entirely engaged new customer. In our latest white paper–CAMPFIRE CONTENT—we offer strategies for understanding the immediate context of your target readers in the moment they need your brand the most. Then, we empower you to build a strong connection with those readers by writing effectively to what they know, what they feel, and what they value.